10 Things to Think About Before Taking Your Dogs Camping in a Van

When travelling with your dog, it will feel like travelling with another person with needs very different from your own. Of all things I have learned from road tripping and camping with my dogs, here are the 10 most important things you need to think about before you set off.


1. Booking campsites

In my experience, most campsites allow dogs. There may be a surcharge, but usually it is a one-off charge per dog and stay, rather than the per dog per night you pay in hotels. In any case, always tell the campsite you are bringing a dog.


2. Travelling safely

The most important thing of course is to have everyone travel safely.

A list of aspects for safe travel with dogs would be an entire article in itself, so I will concentrate on the driving safety.
For everything else, have a look around your van and ask yourself: can the dogs reach this, could they chew, swallow or otherwise hurt themselves with it. This will highlight a majority of risks.

As with any car journey, your dog needs to be safe in the van while you are driving. They also need to be restrained so they can’t disturb you while you are driving. Not just my opinion, it’s the law. This means Fido can’t sit on your lap while you are driving.

If you are converting a van yourself, you can design built-in dog crates etc. But if like me, you have a campervan “off the shelf”, then you have to adapt what’s there to fit your dog.

We have two dogs with very different travel requiements: a borzoi at 32kg and a Yorkie at 3.5kg. Transporting the little ones is fairly easy: he happily climbs into a transport box, we secure said box with straps to the floor rails. Done!
His crate folds flat, so it is easily tucked away after we arrive at the campsite.
Make sure any box you use for travelling with your dog is made for travelling in the car rather than a home crate. In case of an emergency stop, or accident, the g-force will damage any crate not designed for in-car use and could leave your dog injured or dead.

We could crate the big girl, but that box would take up the whole of the living area, and where would we put it when we are parked up? So instead, we have a travel harness for her. She sits on the back bench, safely buckled up, feeling like a Queen.
As with the dog crate, make sure your harness is designed for travelling in-car and hooked up correctly rather than one for walking them.


3. Feeding in the camper

Who goes where at feeding time on a rainy day? If you have two or more dogs and one is food jealous, sticking them together into a tin can and whipping out the food is a recipe for a wrestling match.
You might have to be a bit creative and play musical chairs dinner, but it is good to have a plan and avoid the stress of tryting to work it out on the fly.

Another thought is for big dogs who need their bowls elevated, like my big girl. Where do you put it? You could just hold it in your hand and get all the slobber on you. Lovely! Or put it on the seat, and then you can sit in the slobber instead. Doubly lovely! We have opted for a small foldable stool, which can double up as side table when sitting in a deck chair or even be use for it’s original purpose to reach something on the roof or bike rack.


4. Water

Dogs can be picky about the smell and taste of their drinking water. I had a dog who never seemed to be bothered until he suddenly refused the tap water. Luckily, I had a bottle of Evian in the van, so doggie drank the posh water that night and I drank tap water.

Since then, I always packed a flask with tap water from home. Just in case. Until I made a discovery last year.
I bought the aquapure traveller bottle for travelling in India. The bottle has a dual action filter and unlike most filter bottles, you don’t have to suck the water out, you can gently squeeze the bottle. You see where I am going! I can now fill it with stinking tap water (my dog’s words not mine) and squeeze clean water into the dogs’ water bowl.
What’s even better, it saves me buying bottled water that I then need to find a recycling bin for.


5. Days out and Activities

You have to plan all activities with your dog in mind, ie. can’t bring the dog, can’t do it.
Well, you can find dog sitters or kennels to board them with if you need a day without them, but believe me, you won’t want to.

When there is two of us humans travelling and we want to visit an indoor attraction, we simply take it in turns. One visits the attraction while the other one relaxes with the dogs in the pub / on the beach / in the van. While I was travelling alone, I simply chose the attractions that were dog friendly.


6. Shopping while you’re on the road

No matter how well organized you are, you will need to go to the shops every now and then.
If there are two adult humans travelling, it’s easy. One of you shops, the other stays with the dogs in the van. This way you can ensure the van is cool enough. And no one will get stressed out either because mum has left the building.
If you’re on your own, you need to do your shopping when it’s cool outside, plus you need to find parking in the shade, and you have to be quick. Click and Collect is a great solution when travelling on your own, and so are small supermarkets. 


7. Dog freedom on the campsite

Please don’t let your dog run free on the campsite. Most campsites have a strict on leash policy. Adhere to it in order to allow everyone to enjoy their holidays. If we don’t, dogs will be banned from those sites. I’ve seen it happen and everyone is getting punished.
No matter how friendly your dog is, remember that not everyone is confident around strange dogs. We don’t know what people’s past experiences are. Not all dogs are happy to meet new dogs and we could be destroying weeks of training in an anxious or problematic dog. And then there are people who are allergic to dogs, which means we could physically hurt them.

There are ways to give your dogs a bit of freedom without you having to hold on to their leashes all the time. To just name two that work well depending on the size and temperament of your dogs:

  1. a tie-out stake. It is a purpose-built stake to stick in the ground and tether your dog to. Ideally, they come with a steel cable, because your long walking leash probably won’t withstand dog’s teeth for long enough to make yourself a cup of coffee.
    These are a brilliant solution once your dog is used to them. Until your dog is used to them, they will tie the leash around their legs, your legs, they will sweep your table and chairs off the ground…you get the picture. Be patient and give your dogs the time they need to learn how to use these things. Staying next to your dog at first and stopping them from creating havoc, speeds up this learning process. In the long run, the tie-out stake will allow you to sit back while your dog goes for a sniff in their small temorary kingsom.
  2. A foldable pen will require less time getting used to and works well with smaller dogs. On the downside, it is bulkier to pack away in the van. I personally don’t use a pen. My little dog thinks he is a jeti and can go through walls. Which means if he wants out, he finds a way out.


8. Vets and Emergencies

It is a good idea to look up vets on your planned route and print addresses and phone numbers off. You might not have a mobile signal when you need to find a vet urgently. Knowing in which direction to head, could safe your dog’s life.

The one time I didn’t print things off, one of my dogs knocked the other one out. And there was no mobile phone signal. What are the chances! Luckily, there were locals around who directed us to the nearest vet’s. Our little monster was fine! I on the other hand, nearly died of fear. Needless to say, I’ve never forgotton to take vet’s details again.


9. Vaccination and medical records

While we are speaking of pup health, take vaccination records and, if your dog has any health conditions, paperwork confirming details and what medications they are being given. You can ask your vet to print out relevant notes from their system. My vet doesn’t charge for that, unlike when I ask them to spend time preparing a letter. Which I guess makes total sense. 

Staying in your country of residence, you might not find it necessary to take any originals. Just photograph them off and keep them on your phone or photocopy them and chose a place where to keep them in the van. If you have to consult a vet, you might be asked whether your dog is vaccinated against something unpronounceable, which happened to me when the big girl decided to play with a wild rat, or about details of your dog’s last blood test or the like.

If you are travelling abroad with your dog and they are on medication, check whether the medication is available and, most importantly, legal in the countries you are travelling to. It is always a good idea to carry a vet’s report or letter stating what meds your dog is on and what they are given for. But that won’t help you much if importing the medication is illegal to begin with. 


10. Fido’s luggage: things to take for your dog

Your dog will have more luggage than you anticipate. Fact!

When planning your trip, just expect as much luggage for your dog as you will be taking for yourself. That will be roughtly the right volume.
If you are now wondering, what to take, head over to the blog with my ultimate dog luggage check list.

See you next week! Happy camping!